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Let us never think that history has come to an end—or even a pause. There may never recently have seemed so apt a time at which to voice remembrance as these difficult days of ours; this touching and soul-searching disc can only bring to mind the timeless as well as necessary nature of prayerful yet positive music such as has been gathered by John Scott in the latest offering from the St Paul's Cathedral Choir, whose surveys both of Psalms and Anthems have established them as inspirational and experienced exponents of this deep resource of devotional music. A particular pleasure on this occasion is the way in which the music has been taken from so many traditions and eras, right to our own day and including Ian Kellam's homage to the victims of 11th September, 2001, so that it provides a moving overview of a choral tradition which itself has had no pause.
Geoffrey Burgon was born in 1941 in Hampshire, England and taught himself to play the trumpet in order to join a jazz band whilst still at school. He began composing during his studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 1976 he established himself as a serious composer when his Requiem was performed at the Three Choirs Festival. Soon after this he wrote the first of many scores for television: ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier … Spy’. The setting of the Nunc dimittis was the title music for that programme which ‘struck a chord in a million hearts’. It was followed a string of successful scores for television, including ‘Brideshead Revisited’, ‘Bleak House’, ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ and ‘Silent Witness’. He has written a series of works for the stage and a full-length opera based on Dickens’ Hard Times.
Burgon has been particularly active with regard to the composition of vocal music. Significant works for the voice include Title Divine, an orchestral song-cycle to words by Emily Dickinson, first performed by Heather Harper (1987); a song-cycle to poems by John Clare, A Vision (1991), commissioned by the London Mozart Players for Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, and Merciless Beauty, a work for the countertenor James Bowman. His output of purely orchestral works is small in relation to that for the voice: amongst them are his Singapore Concerto, written for Joanna MacGregor and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (1997) and City Adventures, a concerto for the virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie which was premiered at the 1996 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.
Little is known of the early life of Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585). The first recorded detail of his career is in respect of his appointment as organist of the Benedictine Priory of Dover in 1532. He later appears on the payroll of the church of St Mary-at-Hill in London in 1537, moving to Waltham Abbey the following year where, at the dissolution of the abbey in 1540, he was granted ‘20s’ in wages and the same sum as a ‘reward’. Tallis is then listed as a lay clerk at Canterbury Cathedral in 1541 and was probably a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1543.
In this capacity he would have served under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. His working life therefore encompassed some of the most turbulent years in English church history. The provision of new polyphonic music for the royal chapels must have occupied a good deal of his time in the middle of the sixteenth century. It would have been a time of uncertainty but also of tremendous excitement in grasping the musical opportunities that the liturgical changes of the period afforded. The rewards appear to have made the effort worthwhile: like Byrd, who lived in a substantial property in Essex (now owned by the international snooker player Steve Davies), Tallis also lived in reasonable opulence; he was granted a 21-year lease of a manor at Minster in Kent. Byrd had come to work at the Chapel Royal in 1572 and both he and Tallis petitioned Elizabeth for additional income, resulting in an exclusive licence to print music from 22 January 1575. The same year saw the publication of the anthem anthology Cantiones, quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, from which the graceful five-part anthem Salvator mundi is taken. The collection contained seventeen anthems each by Byrd and Tallis – probably in recognition of the seventeenth year of the Queen’s reign. Although this venture was not financially successful, a second petition was granted in 1577 which secured an annual income for both composers. Tallis was buried in the church of St Alphege in Greenwich.
John Ireland (1879-1962) studied at the Royal College of Music, continuing his studies in composition with Stanford before taking the Bachelor of Music degree at Durham University. Ireland seems to have suffered unduly from the early death of his parents; his marriage was almost immediately annulled in 1927, and in his later life he grew increasingly interested in pagan mysticism. Greater love hath no man is a relatively early work, having been written in 1912 when he was organist of St Luke’s, Chelsea. He orchestrated this anthem in the early 1920s, although it is usually performed in the version with organ accompaniment. This work frequently changes mood: it opens with a broad melody before the tempo quickens to an early climax and the music settles into a treble solo at ‘Who, His own Self’. A baritone picks up the theme and the music quickly moves into a dramatic fanfare passage before reaching its thrilling climax. The final section gently sustains the tension, which is only relaxed in the choir’s final phrase and is continued even to the penultimate chord in the organ part.
Sir C Hubert H Parry (1848-1918) was one of the most important figures in late nineteenth-century English music. Parry’s role as a teacher and a writer was crucial; both he and Stanford were able to revitalise English music at a time when standards were low. Parry obtained his Bachelor of Music degree whilst still at Eton, and before he went up to Exeter College, Oxford, one of his Morning Services had already been sung at Magdalen College. He was famous at school as a baritone and spent much of his time at Oxford playing sport. He found time to found the Oxford University Musical Club with C Harford Lloyd and studied privately with Sterndale Bennett and G A Macfarren. He also sampled the flavour of continental music, studying with the Englishman Henry Hugo Pierson in Stuttgart. After Oxford he worked for Lloyd’s Shipping, but continued his musical studies with Dannreuther who brought his work to the fore in 1880 when he played his Piano Concerto at the Crystal Palace.
Parry was appointed to the staff of the Royal College of Music in 1883 when it opened, succeeding Grove as its director the following year. In 1900 he succeeded Stainer as Professor of Music at Oxford. Parry made many contributions to musical literature as a scholar (especially in his later years), including an important work on J S Bach. Although Parry played the organ as a youth and wrote some important pieces for the instrument, the life of the cathedral musician never attracted him. He did, however, contribute much to the cathedral repertoire and his music was quickly absorbed into the repertoires of the choral foundations.
Sunset and evening star is the title given to a short anthem by Parry when it was included in the hymnal Ancient and Modern. This book was first published in 1861 and the second supplement of 1916 incorporated Parry’s motet Crossing the Bar (1903). It was reprinted in 1924 and the music was included as hymn number 694. The music is both simple and sublime. It is inspired by the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Its poignancy derives from the poet’s analogy to Christ as pilot, as the author describes the inexorability of sailing on life’s drifting tide.
The Irishman Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was possibly the most distinguished composer of English church music; his influence upon musical life was enormous and long-lasting. Like Parry he taught many students who were later to become significant composers and disseminated a Teutonic idiom, gleaned from his studies in Leipzig and Kiel in the mid 1870s. Having been appointed as a professor of music in 1883 at the new Royal College of Music, Stanford was elected Professor of Music at Cambridge University in 1887.
Stanford was, like many composers of his generation, gifted in writing musical miniatures. Victorian England had a huge appetite for ‘drawing-room music’ and so there was much demand for composers to publish material for that market. Stanford was at ease with the larger forms; his works include nine operas, seven symphonies, ten concertos, six Irish Rhapsodies, four Masses, twenty-two secular cantatas, eight string quartets, six organ sonatas and so on. His experience with these larger musical structures evidently taught him terseness in his smaller works. His choral music has survived when much of the work of his contemporaries has not. The renewed interest in him as a composer should allow his works to survive as one of the highest achievements in Victorian and Edwardian music.
Jeremy Dibble’s recent book Charles Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician (Oxford, 2002) lists the composer’s complete works. Even a cursory look through this list leaves the reader with the impression that Stanford must never have stopped writing. The lesser-known anthem Eternal Father recorded here is the second of a set of three motets for unaccompanied chorus published in 1913 as opus 135. As with all of Stanford’s anthems, the music is beautifully crafted; it is written in six parts and is a setting of words by Robert Bridges.
The Hymns Abide with me and O God our help in ages past rank as two of the best known hymns ever written – the latter by one of the greatest hymn-writers of all time, Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who published two important volumes, Hymns (1707) and the Psalms of David (1719). Many of these are still in use today, including this versification of Psalm 90. The combination of fine words and a memorable tune is a powerful one, and this tune, known as St Anne, is attributed to the composer William Croft (1678-1727).
Jacob Handl (1550-1591) was a Slovenian composer who lived and worked in Austria and Bohemia. He stayed at the Benedictine Abbey at Melk and went on to Vienna in or around 1568. By 1574 he is known to have become a singer at the Imperial Chapel of Maximillian II. From 1575 he spent the next four or five years travelling and learning and was subsequently engaged as a musician by the Bishop of Olomouc before moving to become Kantor of Saint Jan na Brzehn in Prague. The Emperor Rudolf II gave Handl a privilege to print music. He produced eleven books of church music which included sixteen settings of the Mass, two Passions and a cycle of music for the church’s year.
Handl clearly had grasped the essentials of the double-choir Venetian style and he was also a master contrapuntalist, although his music suffered some criticism in its day on account of its complexity. One of his smaller pieces in the Franco-Flemish idiom is Ecce quomodo moritur iustus, a setting of the sixth Responsory at Matins on the Saturday of Holy Week. It is written in a homophonic style – that is to say that the parts move together in a hymn-like manner. It is sung here by the Gentlemen of St Paul’s Cathedral Choir.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) is one of the towering figures in English musical history and arguably the greatest. His musical output comprises operas, incidental music to plays, sacred music, odes, songs, catches and important instrumental music for keyboard, strings and wind. He was a chorister at the Chapel Royal and by the age of eight had published some music. When his voice broke he was engaged as organ tuner at Westminster Abbey and as a copyist. He also worked with John Hingeston who was organ maker and keeper of the King’s keyboard and wind instruments – a position that Purcell himself was later to hold. In 1679 he succeeded John Blow as organist at the Abbey. In 1680 or 1681 he married, wrote music for Charles II and began a lifelong association with the theatre – Purcell’s contributions both to the repertoire of sacred music and also of music for the stage were both substantial and epoch-making.
In 1682 Purcell was appointed as one of the organists of the Chapel Royal and therefore one of the singers there – he is known to have had a fine countertenor voice. He was reappointed to his court duties by James II in 1685. Purcell was involved in a good many royal events, including providing the music for Queen Mary’s funeral in 1694. A year later he was dead and was buried with great ceremony (and at no cost to his widow) in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.
Hear my prayer, O Lord is a ‘full’ anthem (as opposed to a ‘verse’ anthem) in eight parts. The manuscript is preserved in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in a volume of his own church music. The fly-leaf contains the following: ‘God bless Mr. Henry Purcell, September ye 10, 1682’. Who could have imagined that over 300 years later on 11 September 2001, such terrible events would unfold in New York – a place barely on the map in Purcell’s day – or that the volume of his music in question would contain music so wholly appropriate for remembering such a calamity? From the opening solitary intonation, through the complex chromaticism and crush of dissonances in the final bars, Purcell’s music poignantly comes to rest on a bare open fifth chord.
Joseph Gelineau, SJ, was born in 1920. His life’s work has included the production of a translation and musical settings of the Psalms which have been adopted by many strands of the Western Christian church. His collaboration with Tournay and Schwab resulted in the Psautier de la Bible de Jérusalem and Psaumes, which won a prize in 1953. Gelineau was active in the field of liturgical reform and development from 1951 – the date of his ordination – and taught at the Institut catholique de Paris.
The musical settings to the Psalm were written in 1957 and they were strongly endorsed through their publication in America by the Gregorian Institute. Partly as a result of this, Gelineau’s Psalms were adopted as part of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of 1963 as a model solution for the chanting of the Psalms in parishes. They aim to recapture the poetic structure and images of the Hebrew texts; the music expresses their design through the asymmetrical three- and four-line plans. His setting of Psalm 23 has been printed in many hymnals.
Give rest, O Christ is generally known as the Russian Contakion of the Dead; the tune is the Kiev Melody and the words are sung on this recording in a translation by W J Birkbeck (1869-1916). It is traditionally performed by the lower voices and, on account of this, has a richness and melancholy well suited to the words. The text contrasts the mortality of man with the immortality of the Divine and reminds us that from dust we were created, and to dust we shall return; it reminds us, too, that the solemn, but heart-felt ‘Alleluia’ is a sentiment often felt at the graveside of a beloved one, the loss of whom one grieves with muted thanks.
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) and Maurice Duruflé shared a love of the shapes and ‘colour’ of plainsong. Fauré is sometimes referred to as ‘le Grégorianisant voluptueux’ – the voluptuous Gregorianist. As a child Fauré played the harmonium in the chapel adjoining the school. An elderly blind lady heard him and alerted his father to his gift. As a result the young musician was enrolled at the École Niedermeyer in Paris, where he remained for eleven years. This school prepared students to become church musicians and it was there that Fauré learned plainsong. After Niedermeyer’s death, Saint-Saëns was appointed to take the piano class. This ‘new blood’ introduced Fauré to what was then contemporary music by Schumann, Liszt and Wagner and before long Saint-Saëns was also taking composition classes. This was a fortunate encounter for Fauré and his musical creativity was fuelled. One of his early works, his now-famous Cantique de Jean Racine, won him a prize in 1865. After a spell as an organist in Rennes (where he devoted much time to composition) he eventually returned to Paris and became a regular at Saint-Saëns’ salon where he met d’Indy, Lalo, Duparc, Chabrier and others in the Parisian musical scene of the 1870s. Having been assistant organist at the church of Ste Sulpice, Fauré then deputised for Saint-Saëns at La Madeleine, becoming choirmaster when Dubois was appointed organist in 1877. Following emotional turmoil in his love life, the young composer began to produce some of his best compositions.
After a period of travels – principally to hear Wagner’s operas – Fauré settled down and married in 1883. His workload at La Madeleine, together with his private teaching, only allowed him to turn his attention to composition during the summer months. His Cantique and his Messe basse (1881) achieved some popularity, and, despite attempts at a Symphony and a Violin Concerto, the Requiem, opus 48, remained his largest work and took some 20 years to take the form in which we know it today. A version for smaller orchestral forces (originally conceived between 1888 and 1892) has been successfully ‘restored’ by John Rutter. The ‘Pie Jesu’, recorded here, is amongst the most poignant choral pieces ever written; it is tempting to think that Fauré wrote the Requiem in memory of someone – but nothing could be further from the truth: he wrote it, in his own words, ‘for the pleasure of it’.
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) was born in Louviers. Between 1910 and 1918 he attended the Cathedral Choir School in Rouen – the birthplace of Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) and the home of the magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ at St Ouen, installed by the builder between 1888 and 1890. Duruflé could hardly have failed to have been influenced by that instrument and those who played upon it; his attraction to the organ and his love of Gregorian chant were established when the composer was a chorister. In 1919 he moved to Paris in order to study the organ with Charles Tournemire (whose deputy he later became at Ste Clothilde) and with Louis Vierne, who was then organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This was in preparation for his admission to the Paris Conservatoire, which he entered in the following year, studying organ with Eugène Gigout. There is no doubt that his exposure to the genius of both Tournemire and Vierne in their respective organ lofts had a formative influence; Duruflé was to retain his admiration for these two masters for the rest of his life.
Duruflé gained the premier prix in organ in 1922 and went on to win premiers prix in harmony in 1924 (Jean Gallon’s class), fugue in the same year (Caussade’s class), accompaniment in 1926 (Estyle’s class) and composition in 1928. Duruflé’s composition teacher was Paul Dukas who, like Tournemire and Vierne, was to exert a life-long influence over the composer’s creative output.
His work is strongly influenced by Gregorian plainsong and the shapes of the phrases; the composer had a fascination with plainchant which is best described by Duruflé himself, in connection with what is perhaps his best-known work, the Requiem opus 11 of 1947: ‘As a general rule, I have above all tried to feel deeply the particular style of the Gregorian themes: and I have done my best to reconcile as far as possible the Gregorian rhythmic patterns, as fixed by the Benedictines of Solesmes, with the demands of the modern bar-structure.’ In paradisum is the last movement of his Requiem and is one of those rare pieces that has a truly ‘other-worldly’ feel to it. The music begins as if floating down from heaven, the melodic contours always shaped by plainsong.
In 1960 the composer published four motets on Gregorian themes as his opus 10. These works were dedicated to Auguste Le Guennant, Director of the Gregorian Institute in Paris and are settings of four well-known plainsong melodies. Ubi caritas is the first of this set, and perhaps the most often performed. After the plainsong intonation at the outset, the theme continues in the alto line and is taken over by the trebles at the words ‘Exsultemus et in ipso’. The harmony is unmistakably French and seems perfectly suited to the text – a miniature distillation of the harmonic idiom of his teacher, Paul Dukas.
In 1930 Maurice Duruflé was appointed organist of St Etienne-du-Mont, a post he held until 1975, when he suffered a bad car accident from which he was only partially to recover and which sadly ended his professional career. On 16 June 1986, he died at the age of 84, having been in hospital for several months. As a tribute to his life and work, his Requiem was performed at a memorial service on 11 October in the same year.
Abide with me is the work of the Reverend H F Lyte, at one time ‘Minister of Lower Brixham, Devon’. He published a set of poems in 1833 and by 1834 his publication The Spirit of the Psalms or The Psalms of David, adapted to Christian Worship, had run to a third impression. One of Lyte’s most famous hymns is Praise my soul the King of Heaven. Abide with me appeared in September 1868 in a posthumous reprint of his collection Poems, chiefly Religious which had first appeared in 1845. John Scott wrote the descants to both of the hymns recorded here.
The Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) produced some of the finest chamber and piano music of the nineteenth century, although it is perhaps as a writer of song that he is best known. His songs have beautifully crafted melodic contours which express the poetic texts almost to perfection. The composer set words by many important German poets, including Müller (for the song cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise), as well as poems by Goethe, Heine and Schiller. As a ‘tunesmith’ Schubert reigns supreme, and it is this factor that is rarely absent from his songs – indeed, it is the very element that has ensured the composer’s enduring popularity and belies the fact that he died in his early thirties.
The young Franz Schubert showed an extraordinary talent for music. He learned to study the organ as well as piano and violin. In 1808 he was accepted as a chorister at the Imperial Court Chapel and as such became a scholar at the Imperial and Royal City College. His examiners and supervisors included Salieri – a friend of Haydn, a rival of Mozart, a pupil of Gluck and tutor of Beethoven. Schubert’s contribution to church music was small but highly significant, and several of his Mass settings are regularly sung today. The Sanctus recorded here is from his Deutsche Messe of 1827 – a simple Mass setting with the most exquisite and gentle melodies.
Mark Blatchly (b1960), presently Director of Choral Music at Charterhouse School, has sung, played or conducted at five cathedrals: Guildford, St Paul’s, Oxford, Gloucester and Bury St Edmunds. He began writing choral music as an organ scholar at St Paul’s and now has a substantial catalogue of publications, many of which have been recorded.
The anthem For the Fallen, a setting of familiar words by Lawrence Binyon, was written whilst Blatchly was an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford. Dedicated to the Choristers of St Paul’s, it was first sung by them at the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1980. The music takes the form of a quasi-Elgarian march in which the Last Post is elegantly integrated into the texture.
Sir William Harris (1883-1973) studied at the Royal College of Music under Sir Walter Parratt, Charles Wood and Sir Henry Walford Davies and became Davies’ assistant at the Temple Church. He held appointments at Lichfield Cathedral, New College Oxford and at the Royal College of Music before being appointed organist and choirmaster of St George’s Chapel, Windsor in 1933. He was affectionately known as ‘Doc H’ at Windsor and his reputation rests more upon his ability as an excellent choir trainer than as a composer.
Several of his large anthems, including Faire is the Heaven, Bring us, O Lord and Oh What their Joy and their Glory Must Be remain in the cathedral repertoire. It would be wrong to stake a claim for Harris as a great composer, but he clearly had a mastery of miniaturist choral textures – whether it is for larger forces, such as eight-part double choir with its resultant antiphonal effects, or for smaller choral resources. The anthem Holy is the true light (sung here by the Gentlemen of St Paul’s Cathedral Choir) was written in memory of Evelyn Mary Ley. The simple texture contrasts close and wide spacing of chords to glorious effect. The music opens out at the words ‘a home of unfading splendour’ and closes up towards the end – especially at the final two Alleluias, where Harris demonstrates a compositional command of the ways in which voices can melt away in a resonant building.
Ian Kellam was born in Sheffield and began his music education whilst a chorister at the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul in that city. He continued his studies with Dr Herbert Sumsion at Gloucester Cathedral and subsequently at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has composed extensively for the theatre, and written number of cantatas for children, a sonata for clarinet and piano, choral pieces and solo songs. He has collaborated on a number of choral titles with the poet Wendy Cope.
Kellam’s Agnus Dei is dedicated to ‘Gerre Hancock and the Choir of St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York, in memory of the Innocent and the Brave, slaughtered on September 11th 2001’. It is a composer’s response to the events of an extraordinary day in world history – and, as with the assassination of President Kennedy, everyone will remember what they were doing at the time that they heard the dreadful news. The Agnus Dei opens with two dark musical gestures – symbols, perhaps, of the chaos of the collapse of the twin towers. Out of this darkness a beautiful melody appears. This process is repeated as a prelude to each of the work’s three principal sections; each time a new phrase begins, the darkness of the gathering chords grows until it is finally dispelled in the final words of the piece: ‘dona eis requiem’ – ‘grant them rest’.
William McVicker © 2003